2023 Has Been An All-Time Great Year For Survival Horror

Survival horror hasn’t always gotten the respect it deserves.


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Though we’ve had multiple great survival horror series since the ’90s, the genre is often pushed to evolve away from the things that make it unique. The first Resident Evil games were solidly focused on sneaking and preserving ammo, but then Resident Evil 4 took the series in a more action-packed direction, and the shell casings continued to drop by the thousands in RE5 and RE6. The Dead Space series followed a similar trajectory; the first game was a slow-paced horror game where every plasma cell mattered, but Dead Space 3 was a full-on action horror game.

Issac Clarke Standing in USG Ishimura

As a fan of the genre, it’s been refreshing to see 2023’s line-up of greats include what is potentially the best ever roster of survival horror games. Notably, these games cover the full spectrum, from RE4-style action horror to Dead Space-style creeping and conservation. In fact, both of those games are straight-up here, shiny and new in remade form. After the disappointment of last December’s Dead Space spiritual successor, The Callisto Protocol, starting the year with some potent survival horror was a welcome shot in the arm.

With some notable exceptions, remakes carried the first half of 2023. Dead Space dropped in January, Metroid Prime Remastered in February, Resident Evil 4 in March, and System Shock in May. Gloomwood continued to chug along in early access, and then this summer, Frictional Games dropped Amnesia: The Bunker — which was the first survival horror title this year that felt genuinely new. An eerie take on the immersive sim, Amnesia: The Bunker is the scariest game I’ve played this year and mechanically robust, a rare combo in first-person indie horror. Alan Wake 2 closed out the calendar and tied with Baldur’s Gate 3 for most nominations at The Game Awards. We started the year and ended the year with some all-time great survival horror.

So, does all that add up to 2023 being the best year in survival horror history? Let’s look at some of the other contenders. 2005 has a credible claim to the throne, which largely rests on the leather-clad shoulders of Leon S. Kennedy, as the mid-decade point saw the original release of Resident Evil 4 on GameCube and PS2. But, that year also gave players the cult classics FEAR and Condemned: Criminal Origins, plus the less-beloved Haunting Ground. 2019 is also a contender, with the return of Resident Evil 2 and the conclusion of the Metro series with Exodus. New IP was also strong that year with A Plague Tale: Innocence, and the open-world biker game, Days Gone, which got middling reviews at launch but developed a devoted following. It may be just an okay open-world game, but its natural disaster-like zombie hordes made it a memorable entry in the survival horror canon.

For my money, 2010 is 2023’s stiffest competition. The first year of the teens kicked off three acclaimed horror franchises, with the original Alan Wake, Metro 2033, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent — which is still the defining first-person horror game. Limbo, Playdead’s iconic platformer, asked and resoundingly answered the question: “Can horror work in 2D?” while Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty: Black Ops both brought horror on the side, with RDR’s Undead Nightmare expansion adding zombie-slaying thrills to the old west and COD’s Zombies mode introducing many players (myself included) to the joys of multiplayer survival horror.

This is a case where time will have to tell. 2023’s line-up is incredibly strong but, Alan Wake 2 and Amnesia: The Bunker aside, it’s almost entirely held up by remakes. Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, System Shock, and Metroid Prime are all quite good, but they’re games that were already good when they released decades ago. That isn’t to dismiss the improvements the new teams of developers made to each of these games, but they were building on solid foundations. It’s a stark contrast to 2010, when the heaviest hitters were completely original. Given that two of the series that began in 2010 got acclaimed sequels this year (Alan Wake 2 and Amnesia: The Bunker) we may need to wait until 2036 to know for sure.

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